Section 17 leave

This information has been designed by LPFT Carers Council to assist carers and relatives to understand section 17 leave. 

What is Section 17 leave? 

When your loved one is in hospital, they can be granted time away from the hospital.  This is an important activity to prepare both them and you for their discharge.

Their doctor (who may be referred to as their Responsible Clinician or RC) will work with everyone involved in their care.  This will include the ward staff to plan their Section 17 leave.

Planning Section 17 leave is usually done in ward rounds or in Care Programme Approach meetings.  This enables everyone in the care team, including relatives and carers to be involved.

When your loved one returns to the ward following their leave, the doctor in charge and other people involved with their care will ask how the leave went.  They will be asking for perspective as a Carer as well as asking the patient for their opinion.  They will want to talk about areas of success and any concerns.

When can my loved one have leave?

This is different for everyone and it will depend on many factors. The doctor and care team will need to establish the best time for leave to commence.  They will also consider the safety of both your loved one and other people. 

The leave will need to be planned carefully and is not usually granted immediately after your loved one has been detained.  This is to ensure an appropriate period of time is spent assessing them and any risks.  Consideration will be give to these factors before authorising clinically appropriate specific types or timeframes of leave.

Are there any restrictions when on leave?

The doctor will talk to your loved one and you about the details of the leave arrangements, such as:

  • dates and times when they are able to be off the ward,
  •  whether they should be escorted by a healthcare professional and
  • certain geographical areas that the patient should stay within. 

It may be for small periods of time to start with and if leave goes well, the duration of leave may then be gradually increased.

All the details of leave authorised for your loved one will be clearly documented on a S.17 leave form.  This form should be signed by both your loved one if they are able to, as well as their responsible clinician.  A copy should be offered to you in your role as carer. The leave form will clearly state the duration of leave authorised, and it is very important that you are aware of what time your loved one should return to the ward. There may also be conditions attached to your loved one’s leave, for example that they abstain from taking drugs or drinking alcohol.

Who do I contact if my loved one breaks leave conditions?

Contact the ward. They will be able to advise and assist you in the next steps for your loved one and assist you in getting your loved one back to the ward if needed.

If you are going to be late returning your loved one to the ward due to unforeseen circumstances, please contact the ward as soon as you can as the times must be adhered to in all but exceptional circumstances.

Can leave be extended without my loved one returning back to the hospital?

Yes, but only by their doctor. No other person is able to extend leave.

If my loved one is detained under the Mental Health Act, who can grant their leave?

Only the doctor in charge of their care can grant leave from hospital.  This will normally be the consultant in charge of their care, also known as your loved one’s responsible clinician (RC).

Requests for specific type of leave for your loved one can be made through the care team.  This will most likely be discussed together at ward rounds or in Care Programme Approach meetings to review the rationale and appropriateness.

Once leave is granted, will it always be able to be taken?

Occasionally, the nurse in charge of your loved one’s care may feel that they are not well enough to take planned leave until they have been reviewed by the doctor. If the nurse on the ward feels it is in their best interests or for the safety of the public, they are able to use their discretion to pause leave.

If leave conditions state that a nurse is needed to escort your loved one on leave then it may be delayed due to other demands on the ward. However, the care team will always try to ensure that leave goes ahead as planned.

What happens if my loved one does not return to the ward at the agreed date/time?

Getting back to the ward following leave at the agreed time is important. If your loved one does not return to the ward at the agreed time then the Mental Health Act states that the hospital staff need to make arrangements to get them back on the ward, with the help of other people if needed, such as the police.

It is not the responsibility of a patient’s carer to return them to the ward, particularly if the patient is refusing to comply with their leave arrangements.  However communication with the ward on these occasions is critical.

What happens if things go wrong whilst on leave and I need help with my loved one?

Contact the ward. The ward can assist you in helping your loved one. You are able to return your loved one back to the ward earlier than planned if needed.

Is there someone in particular I need to see when I bring my loved one back to the ward?

When you return to the ward, there will always be a qualified nurse available to speak to. However, there is not any specific team member you need to return your loved one to, any member of the team can accept your loved one back onto the ward.

What if I can't cope as a carer whilst my loved one is with me?

While your loved one is on leave, they remain under the care of the ward. If you feel that you are unable to cope whilst your loved one is on leave, please contact the ward initially who will be able to offer you advice. Sometimes leave doesn’t always go to plan and it may mean you need to return your loved one back earlier than planned. Ring the ward if you feel this is the case and they can offer you advice.

Can my loved one drink alcohol whilst on leave?

Drinking alcohol can affect how medication works and this can have a negative impact on your loved one’s mental health. We would advise not to drink alcohol whilst on leave due to the effects it may have.

What if I change my mind before leave commences and I don't feel I can have my loved one at home?

Leave is all about working in partnership together with you and your loved one to make sure things go as smoothly as possible. If, before leave commences, you feel it is not the right time for it to go ahead then please discuss this openly with the ward staff who can offer you time to talk to them. They will listen to your concerns and discuss the next step with you.

What happens if I need to speak to someone out of hours?

Whilst on leave, your loved one is still classed as an inpatient at the hospital. Therefore, you are able to ring the ward 24 hours a day to ask for any advice or support whilst your loved one is at home with you.